Call for Papers: ‘Grassroots Political Responses to Agrarian Conflicts and Environmental Degradation in the Southeast Asian Anthropocene’


18 April 2023
18th - 20th April 2023


University of Cambridge

In line with calls to ‘provincialise’ the Anthropocene (DeLoughrey 2019), this conference aims for a contextual analysis of the fault lines and fragmentations of the Southeast Asian Anthropocene and its political mobilisations. We approach this endeavour through a reflexive analysis of grassroots political responses to environmental degradation and the closely linked issue of agrarian conflicts in the region.

Southeast Asia is rich in natural resources, has high biodiversity, and fertile agricultural lands. However, over the last century, the region has seen the increasing depletion of these resources and environmental degradation through infrastructure projects, extractivism, deforestation, plantations, agricultural intensification, and enclosure. As a result, an increasing number of agrarian conflicts between farmers, fisherfolk, and foragers, on the one hand, and state and business actors, on the other hand, have emerged. State actors are often actively invested in these processes in the name of national development and economic growth and facilitate corporate access to natural resources. Developmental narratives often build on an insufficient understanding of local practices that are deemed inefficient or environmentally harmful and are regarded by many state and civil society actors to necessitate technical knowledge transfer. The ensuing “political economy of ignorance” (Dove 1985) has depoliticising effects and contributes to agrarian conflicts as it legitimises external interventions, enclosure, and ‘green grabbing’ (cf. Balmford/Green/Phalan 2012; Eilenberg 2021; Fairhead/Leach/Scoones 2012). At the same time, the socio-economic effects of climate change from human-made greenhouse gas emissions are becoming increasingly noticeable in agrarian production from horticulture to fisheries (Borras Jr. et al. 2021). With Moore (2015), we can regard these various developments broadly as Anthropocenic ‘problem spaces’.

Throughout Southeast Asia, (grassroots) political struggles have emerged that engage with these developments in a variety of ways. The responses range from negotiation and compromise, over strategic co-optation, to outright rejection and contestation (e.g. Li 2007; McCarthy & Robinson 2016). Sometimes, political movements and NGOs form regional, national, or transnational coalitions, such as during the 2018 Global Land Forum in Bandung, and shortly after the World Bank/IMF annual meeting in Bali. While climate change in particular and environmental degradation more broadly have long been regarded by local civil society actors as an elite concern, an increasing number of political struggles have come to address either of them as central to agrarian livelihoods, as the current legal case of the inhabitants of Pari Island (Indonesia) against the cement giant HOLCIM vividly illustrates. However, such grassroots political involvement often contains considerable economic, political, or epistemological risks for participants.

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to comparatively discuss activist and civil society responses to Anthropocenic problem spaces and which moral, economic, ecological, and political concerns motivate them. We aim to develop an analytical focus on the relationship between these different motivations, such as between environmental and agrarian concerns, particularly as they play out on the ground in Southeast Asian contexts. This will entail questions of responsibility (Chua et al. 2021) and justice (Wolf/Zenker 2022). Thinking through these issues will illuminate the ways in which the Anthropocene is encountered, navigated, and transformed through grassroots politics in Southeast Asia.

We invite abstracts for paper contributions from social anthropology, sociology, geography, political science, development studies, and neighbouring disciplines that provide insights into

  • political contestations around responsibility, accountability, and justice in the context of the Southeast Asian Anthropocene
  • local and larger-scale fault lines of agrarian conflicts, including potential links or frictions between agrarian-economic concerns and environmentalism
  • aims, strategies, and methods of grassroots activism and broader civil society coalitions responding to environmental degradation and agrarian conflicts
  • the relationship of grassroots activists to (international) NGOs and formal politics, and legal institutions
  • the nature of the relationship between scholarship and activism on the Southeast Asian Anthropocene, concerning ethical dilemmas and questions of responsibility


The conference will be held in hybrid format with options both for in-person and online participation. Please submit your abstract (max. 250 words), including your name, affiliation, and indication of whether you’re planning to present in person or remotely by 13 January 2023 to Sophia Hornbacher-Schönleber ( We welcome submissions from early career scholars and have limited funds available to support their participation. If you wish to be considered for a grant of £ 500 to £ 1,000, please indicate this as well as your approximate travel costs in your application email.

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